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Posts Tagged ‘performance’

Untitled for Across Oceans

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a Creative Residency at Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University by Maxine Hepper, Artistic Director of visiting company, Across Oceans. You can read the notice about the resulting performance and the work of all the artists (Brad McDonald, Lo Bil, Gayle Young and Sashar Zarif) as well as Maxine and myself) by clicking here: Performance notice.

I do not have a studio practice and it was an amazing opportunity to have time in a studio PLUS the equipment I wanted to work with, amazing.  It felt luxurious and abundant and I thank not only Maxine for this invitation but also David Vivian and tech staff, Brian. My participation was significantly impacted, however, by the death of my mother the Friday before the residency started. I put in only a fraction of the hours available and I thank Maxine and the other artists for their understanding and support. During the time, I did manage to be present for Gayle Young’s development of a new recipe piece and contributed the harmonica to the mix.

I began work with a device I came up with during the Niagara She-bang, a collaborative project led by Dreamwalker Dance at Centre for the Arts, Brock University in April of this year, which is a video projector on a mobile cart with a live video feed from a camera on a very long cable. I can’t remember how I came up with this idea but it is in keeping with my longstanding interest in breaking up the rectangularity and 2-dimensionality of the projected image. I first worked on this in Lap (1976) by placing monitors on chairs amongst the audience as well as in the performing area and worked on it big-time in collaboration with David Hlynsky on Moral/Passion (1986). (I have yet to create the Moral/Passion page on this website as it is rather daunting. It featured David’s extraordinary photography and varying shaped masks projected with 13 slide projectors.) In this short piece, I used 3 different wall surface areas and briefly the ceiling while moving the projector.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the Niagara She-bang residency was allowing myself to experience the freedom of moving and shooting at the same time. I have memories from the time in the late 70s and early 80s when I frequently shot documentation video (at 15 Dance Lab and Western Front) of wanting to throw my body into the camera movement but feeling constrained by the need to be invisible as a cameraperson, and I wanted to fully use my body in this work. However, I feel false performing dancer-ly movement (although I am happy to work with dancers in my dance-based work), and was primarily guided simply by the necessities of camerawork and the narrative actions I developed, except for an arm and hand sequence.

I started by wanting to explore an idea of invisibility and/or feeling visible, an idea which I had been thinking about as an older woman artist. Because of the nature of the tech and the beautiful studio I worked in, the work quickly became based in dualities of inside/outside, interior/exterior, felt/visible. The exterior wall of the studio is all windows, centering on an exquisite tree, and it faces the beautiful wooded back end of the Brock campus.

At the beginning, I established the options for the camera position which were static placement on the floor, tripod, being moved by me and moving on the cart. The first thing I did was a kind of “towards and away from study”, with the camera on the floor focused on my walking feet. A certain amount of my time was taken up with the logistics of my tech set-up. I’d like to find a way to remotely connect the camera to the projector so there is no long cord to deal with.

I wanted to introduce a static image source and used my iPhone. One of the pleasing visual features of this tech set-up in April was re-discovering feedback, and one’s own body is the obvious subject/object with which to do so. However, I was troubled by the lurking danger of imagery that reads as narcissism. I used the feedback device in an extended arm sequence which you can see here –

I would describe these concerns as formal and conceptual (i.e. concerned with form and the nature of the media, like my early work), however, in the end the greatest influence on this short piece was my desire to not ignore the recent personal content of my life. The “towards and away” feet section turned into swaddling my feet in a piece of cloth. Later in the work, I lay down on the cloth and then covered myself. Both of these actions referred to shrouding my mother just days before. I took photos of the studio on my iPhone, but it seemed just too dry to use these for the desired static image. So, after reflection, I decided to use one of the photos I had taken of my mother’s body, after the remarkable experience of watching 5 hours of changes to her face after death. I had taken a photo of the big window by which she lay. She died in her room on the top floor of the wonderful Albright Manor which is on the Niagara Escarpment in Beamsville, and the view was of expansive blue sky and Lake Ontario in the distance. Because I am sure she would not have liked her image used, I leaned the phone against the video camera lens so that only the pixelated sky was visible, again referencing the visible and invisible. I ended the piece by closing the vertical blinds in the studio, closing the view to the outside and the light which made sense on the formal level and I also intended it as a metaphor for death.

As an aside and in keeping with this theme of re-connecting with early work, Maxine and I go back a long way although we do not know one another well. We were at York University around the same time and Maxine performed in my second ever show, Mover, which was at A Space, Toronto in 1975.

On another aside, here’s a little kevetching. This spring, I was a participating artist in 2 residencies at Brock University by visiting companies from Toronto.  During my 38-year career, I have never been invited to work or perform at Brock (I am a Niagara native and returned here to live in 1988) and have been asked to deliver 1 workshop and 1 artist talk ever. I am very happy to have the recent opportunities, don’t get me wrong, but it’s ironic I am invited to Brock only through companies visiting from Toronto.


Return to The Main Event – Rennie Park

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 9:52 pm

It’s been ages since I have blogged at all and since I have worked on The Main Event (fond interim name in my electronic folders for the project for which I received an OAC research grant in 2012). This is happily due to other art opportunities (such as the terrific Niagara Dance Company commission, Dissolve, and major family events. I have recently returned to The Main Event and I am sorry to say that the driver is a production grant deadline. Maybe I should not say sorry and frame grant deadlines as helpful.

I have changed direction. This is partly because I am so sick of hearing about the War of 1812 I have lost any interest in addressing war resisters to same. But more positively, it is mostly because the project has evolved to embrace my general direction, which is to dissolve boundaries between my artistic and change agent practises.  (My professional change agent practice, aka consultant business, is non-existent at present and my volunteer activities have increased significantly, beginning with Idle No More in late 2012.) While I have a long history of community work in varied capacities – serving as administrator of arts service organizations nationally, provincially and regionally, catalyzing community arts practice in St. Catharines during my years with the dearly-departed St. Catharines and Area Arts Council, and creating my own art work based in community – I have only once worked in what I consider to be a “pure” community art practice and did not consider it successful (working with RAFT, the local youth shelter in 2005). I do not consider that this work will be “pure” community art practice either, but it will be developed in partnership with community groups and issues with which I identify. The performance remains to be one in which the audience will move from site to site on a bus which will house a video projection system and I still intend that it take place over a series of Friday and Saturday summer nights in 2014. It has evolved to sites only within the municipality of the City of St. Catharines (since I am no longer tied to 1812 War Resister sites and it will lessen bus travel time) which are selected primarily on the basis of their identification with the community groups.

Never Again

Rennie Park Peace Garden

Rennie Park Peace Garden

First up in a partnership with Project Ploughshares Niagara, a tiny and very grassroots peace organization with which I worked on the Art of Peace Festival in my capacity as Executive Director of St. Catharines and Area Arts Council. I have of course worked with peace issues in my work before, with Song For A Blue Moon, a 2004 performance which took 6 years to create encompassing my 3 years of homelessness.

For many years, PPN has presented a Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lantern Service at Rennie Park in Port Dalhousie and is responsible with other organizations for the peace focus of the park (in pleasant St. Catharines coexistence with the rowing focus although I notice the City website makes no mention of the Peace Garden, only the rowing content). This event will be the starting point for the section of the performance at Rennie Park.

Here are a photos of the Lantern Service kindly provided by Project Ploughshares Niagara:

Recently, I scouted the location. The part of the park used by PPN for the Lantern Service is in the area of their Peace Garden, close to a small canal beside Martindale Pond upon which they float the lanterns. I expect to limit the performance to that part dependent on whether or not the City will allow our small bus access to the road leading into that area (because it will house the projector). I eyed an attractive mound with trees close to the parking lot as a possible location if absolutely required as a back-up, but we would need to walk into the the Peace Garden.

Site tour

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Today I scouted potential performance and related-content sites. I recently had the excellent good fortune to be supported with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council’s Integrated Arts program to undertake the research for an as-yet untitled performance / installation I plan on producing in 2014. (I need a simpler way to name the art work than “performance / installation” but there will be both performances and installations.) The audience will be on a bus driven from site to site and at each there will be a different performance and/or installation featuring video projection, lights, spoken text, dance, music, TDB. I expect video projection to be a significant component of the work and the research grant includes consultation with Nigel Scott who will work with me on developing the projection logistics.

Although the ideas have already progressed from where they were when I prepared the funding application last March (it takes 4 months for a decision), today I toured sites based on that starting point, which was the series of plaques placed this year by the 3 Peace Churches, which were exempted from military service in the War of 1812 because of religious belief. Don Alexander was my most excellent tour guide and Don has provided me with many research materials which I have only begun to explore. Don is an Attender at Quaker meeting, a filmmaker amongst many other things and a friend.

Quaker plaque in the Peace Garden at Rennie Park, Port Dalhousie in St. Catharines
photo: Don Alexander

My interest in the 1812 War Resisters began almost a year ago when I first heard of them in the context of discussions about the Art of Peace Festival, a community festival in which I was heavily engaged from 2002-2008, mostly as Executive Director of the dearly-departed St. Catharines and Area Arts Council. I attended a meeting of the 1812 Peace Committee (see related links here and here) formed of the three historical Peace Churches –  the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Mennonites and Brethren in Christ (Tunkers).  It stunned me that I had never heard of 1812 War Resisters before, given that I was born and grew up in St. Catharines and have lived in the Niagara region for most of my life, drenched in 1812 history.  I already had community connections within the Mennonite and particularly Quaker communities and familiarity with their histories of pacifism and social justice. (The third part of my 2004 performance, Song For A Blue Moon, was richly informed by collaborations in both those communities, particularly the video footage obtained via the Christian Peacemaker Team.)

Quaker plaque at Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum as well as millstone from Zavitz Mill on Gravelly Bay, Lake Erie
photo: Don Alexander

I visited the Mennonite plaque at the First Mennonite Church in Vineland (very close to where I used to live in Jordan) last February or March in preparation for writing the grant application and invited the participation of that congregation (which is not yet resolved).  I want to work with the community of each site in ways which will necessarily be negotiated as we move along. I have no intention of making “plonk art”; work plonked down in a site used only as inspiration or backdrop. My values of art-making place a high value on making meaning and it follows that meaning must be made in dialogue with the communities where the performance/installation will take place. However, I am not engaging in a pure community art practice whereby the work is entirely co-created, either. And I have so far invited one other artist to contribute her own work – so in other words, all is floating in the mid-stream at the moment (as it should be).

I believe that the re-negotiation of the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in Canada is of the utmost importance in our times so it is important to me that the work include aboriginal perspectives. Certainly the War of 1812 presents rich material, not least of which is the strange and long history of how native and non-native communities have approached the recognition of Tecumseh (featuring grave-robbing on the white side, of course.) Last March I attended a fantastic lecture by Alan Corbiere, Indigenous Perspectives on the War of 1812,  sponsored by various groups including the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education of Brock University and held at Niagara Artists’ Centre. He was kind enough to suggest some research materials.

At the time of my application, I knew the work was not specifically about 1812 war resisters, rather that they were an anchor for an exploration of notions of peace and conflict, community and nationhood. Recently, the notion of communities of resistance seemed to be my frame but that may change too. I am currently engaged in reading a number of War of 1812 history books focused on either the Peace Church or aboriginal communities (the latter having been written by non-native scholars) but I know I have zero interest in portraying historical events. I have never been interested in narrative theatre at any point during my many years of art-making.

Today’s trip presented at least one very clear, visual and site-based direction to me and I will soon begin the process of requesting permission to use the site and therefore engage with its community in the development of content. At this site, two remarkable old maple trees called out loudly to me! They remind me of Pelham’s Comfort Maple, where in 2003 I shot video of dance Yvonne Ng in the tree, for the work, earth’s flesh.

not related to the work at all but we passed this tree of shoes and I couldn’t help wondering about its story!
photo: Don Alexander

one of the old maple trees at a site I hope to use
photo: Don Alexander


In Uncategorized on July 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm
photo: Athena Madan

photo: Athena Madan

photo: Athena Madan
photo: Athena Madan

I participated in a global event commemorating the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. My dear friend, Bernicci, e-mailed me information about the project and I instantly decided to join. I had used video of the Tank Man in an installation I did in 1997 and have always found it such moving imagery. I sent out a mass e-mail, was joined by one wonderful person, Dana, and we were witnessed by three friends as we performed the Tank Man Tango in front of St. Catharines City Hall on June 4 at 4:00 pm. Athena attended and was roped into photographing. The website for this event is – check it out. Here are a few video traces provided by the Sydney, Australia artist and organizer, Deborah Kelly:
Some people making the dancing vigil in Bristol:

These people in Brussels are part of Amnesty:

Here it is in Singapore, at the Substation: